Thursday, July 26, 2007

Staying the course

John McCain:
My friends on the other side of this argument accuse those of us who oppose this amendment with advocating ‘‘staying the course,’’''staying the course,'' which is intended to suggest that we are intent on continuing the mistakes that have put the outcome of the war in doubt. Yet we all know that with the arrival of General Petraeus, we have changed course. We are now fighting with a counterinsurgency strategy, which some of us have argued we should have been following from the beginning and which makes the most effective use of our strength and does not strengthen the tactics of our enemy. The new battle plan is succeeding where our previous tactics have failed, although the outcome remains far from certain.

   The tactics proposed in the amendment offered by my friends, Senators Levin and Reed — a smaller force confined to bases distant from the battlefield, from where they will launch occasional search-and-destroy missions and train the Iraqi military — are precisely the tactics employed for most of the war, which have, by anyone's account, failed miserably. Now, that, Mr. President, is staying the course, and it is a course that inevitably leads to our defeat [..] (Debate in the US Senate, 17-18 July 2007 ( C-span / BBC Parliament, 22 Jul; Congressional Record S9429)
The Republican leader, Mitch McConnell had this:
[Karl Levin] was asked these questions by the press. He said he didn't want to get into a debate as to how many troops will be needed. He said answering that question would be changing the subject. But that is the subject, isn't it? — whether and how many troops we are going to keep in Iraq. (S9432)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Khalid W. Hassan

On Friday 13 July the British media reported that a journalist with The New York Times had been killed. From a link the NYT gave, I realised I had mentioned him in a previous post. Here are some of the details of his killing, from the NYT's bureau chief :
The gunmen opened fire with automatic rifles, pitting Mr. Hassan’s rundown Kia car with bullets. At least one struck him in the upper body, but failed to kill him. [..] Slumped in his seat, he called his mother, then his father, at work as a school caretaker, telling them he had been shot. “I’m O.K., Mom,” he said. [..]An off-duty policeman in a gasoline station line told Mr. Hassan’s father what came next. A second car with gunmen, an Opel Vectra, seeing Mr. Hassan on his cellphone, pulled forward and fired two fatal shots into Mr. Hassan’s head and neck.

[Mr. Hassan] left no doubt his greatest fear was the Mahdi Army, and his cellphone text message shortly before he was killed indicated he was seeking a way out of Saidiya that would skirt a police checkpoint controlled by Shiite militiamen. That led his family to conclude that Mahdi Army spotters, recognizing his car and knowing him to be a Sunni, might have alerted Shiite gunmen lurking along his route.

But on Friday night, 12 hours after Mr. Hassan died, another cellphone message caused friends and relatives to question their conclusion that he had been the victim of [Shiite] extremists. A relative reported he had received a text message warning him to quit his job and “return to God” or suffer a fate similar to Mr. Hassan’s. The message was signed by a group calling itself the Brigade of the Mujahedeen, a hitherto unknown group. Mujahedeen, or holy warriors, is a term usually used by Sunni extremists. ('In a Baghdad Killing, Questions That Haunt Iraq', 14 July 2007, John F. Burns)
John Burns goes on to speak of a previous member of the NYT’s Iraqi news staff who was shot and killed: a "journalist the newspaper relied on in Basra, Fakher Haider". He was mentioned in my post 'The White Ducks of Basra', from 2006. 

Khalid Hassan, Photo: The New York Times

His words from last year:
We still have the problems. We didn't get rid of them yet.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


A short AP dispatch recently referred to "the deteriorating security situation in Iraq". According to Jack Kelly in the Washington Times(*), the reporter probably put it that way without thinking much about it. But he's wrong: the situation  may be "bad" or "grim" etc., but it's hardly getting worse, Kelly says, referring to al-Anbar.

It's interesting that words like "bad" or "grim" are not sufficient for people, but they have to say it's "deteriorating". Of course, it may be true that the situation in Iraq is hopeless, given the current state of public opinion in the US, but to say that would be to admit a whole set of more complex emotions.

Mind you, he did say two years ago that Iraq was "turning the corner" ('Some people can't accept the truth even when it's handed to them'). But in his recent piece, purely on this semantic point, he's right. 

* Via C-span / BBC Parliament, 22 Jul

Monday, July 23, 2007

Letting people of

Sarkozy is 'Not quite Napoleon', according to Agnès Poirier, Guardian Comment, Tuesday July 10, via Oliver Kamm).
For one thing, he has just banned mass mercy to the nation's prisoners on this Saturday's Bastille day, a measure that was restored by Napoleon in 1802. ... Our supreme leader has actually more in common with another Napoleon ... Napoleon the third,
I thought moving away from letting people of their parking tickets on 14 July was something in Sarkozy's favour: the practice was one of those things that reinforced the image of the French president as a kind of elected monarch.

One small irony: it was Napoleon III who made smoking cigarettes fashionable in Europe; under Sarkozy's watch, smoking is likely to be abolished in French cafés etc.

Update (18 Jul). From subsequent discussions on French radio, it appears that there are more serious objections to the Bastille Day amnesty: it comes at a time when much of France is "asleep", when the public services are not in the best of positions to re-integrate large numbers of ex-prisoners back into society.

Chirac has been questioned about activities as mayor of Paris, from 1977 to 1995, when it is alleged that state funds were used to pay workers for his RPR party. His defence seems to boil down to saying that everybody was doing similar things at the time.

The net seems to be closing in on Dominique de Villepin in the Clearstream affair. Denis Robert is claiming that the judicial enquiries are bearing out what he said in his books: that the trail would lead all the way back to the former prime minister and the president of the Republic. But Chirac is immune from investigation into actions during his presidency. It has been argued that the commission set up by Sarkozy to look into the constitution should consider whether it is still appropriate to sanctuariser the president from prosecution. In the United States, and it must really hurt the French to admit this, the president is subject to impeachment...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Containment, Neocons and other words

It was Howard Hunt who broke the story that the CIA funded Animal Farm, John Halas and Joy Batchelor’s 1954 version of George Orwell’s political allegory...
(11 Jul) From the London Review of Books. I dropped a comment on the blog lilarajiva.wordpress. It's still a good film, though, apart from the ending.
"the much encouraged and subsequently abandoned Hungarian uprising.”
What exactly could the CIA or anybody else outside have done to support the rising? I don't agree with the point made about containment. Surely containment included continuing the battle of ideas with a view to Communism collapsing from its own internal weaknesses? And 1956 did virtually destroy the appeal of Communism in western Europe. Hard on the Hungarians, of course.

Jeff Weintraub posts about various scare-words ...
the threat posed by the "very liberal Communists"
Of course, "liberal" has a specific usage in American English. Its meaning is different in British English, not to mention in French.
Historically ... the correct term is "Trotskyist." "Trotskyite" was a derogatory slur...
Stalinists, for their part, used to call anyone they didn't like either a "Trotskyite" or a "fascist"--and sometimes both.
In Spain, the Communists, in complete disregard of the facts, accused the trotskyists of conspiring with the fascists. The following passage from Antony Beevor's 2006 book refers to "the anarchists", but exactly the same line was taken towards trotskyists. (The POUM, who Orwell fought with, were trotskyist in tendency, although they were not "pure" enough for Trotsky himself).
On 17 July [1936], just as the anarchists were preparing to defeat the generals' rising in Barcelona, the Comintern 'advised' the Spanish communist politburo: 'It is necessary to take preventative measures with the greatest urgency against the putschist attempts of the anarchists, behind which the hand of the fascists is hidden.' (p36)
Going back to Jeff's main subject, I heard on the BBC World Service last week a Business review or something, on the question of Murdoch taking over the Wall Street Journal, where the presenter described how the WSJ's opinion pages are a forum for the neo-conservatives and asked whether Murdoch could actually take it to the Left.

I would have thought it more accurate to say that the WSJ is a forum for opinion that is, quite simply, conservative. "Neo-conservative" is used here as an antonym of "on the Left", both terms being perhaps equally meaningless.

Incidentally, I tend to agree with the interviewee, who said that Murdoch is probably happy with the WSJ's opinion pages as they are.

Update (20 Jul): Another word that is being bandied about in the US is "libertarian", in connection with the Republican candidate, Ron Paul. From what I gather watching C-Span, his views can be described as "old conservative" (or paleo-con): isolationist, given to conspiracy theories (from what I remember, many of the old CTs, such as Pearl Harbour, came from the paleo-cons originally, before being taken over by "the Left").

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

France and Africa

(29 Jun) One aspect of Sarkozy's speech at Toulon which has generally been ignored is his grande vision of a second union,  alongside the EU,  one between European countries and the south of the Mediterranean,  with Africa beyond.  This according to somebody on Le Franc Parler,  4 June, with x, a spokesman on foreign policy for the UMP (*). Algeria has tremendous potential,  as does [the rest of] Africa.  We need to help them develop.  Otherwise,  we we will be faced by an enormous wave of migration that we will not be able to cope with.  Europe should work with Africa in the same way that North America has worked with South America or Japan has worked with the countries of its region.

We cannot ignore the genocides and civil wars in Africa.  We need to address its problems very seriously,  he says.  At the same time,  aid should be conditional on progress in democratisation and transparence.  So,  the choice of Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister is consistent.  He is known for championing the right to intervene,  for saying to people like Charles Taylor,  when you carry out genocide,  massacre your people,  you will be treated as an international criminal.

To which I add some comments of my own.  There is certainly growing chaos in a whole region of Africa,  from Sudan / Darfur to the former French colonies, Chad and the Central African Republic.  There was a report on C4 News on the latter (last Tuesday) and then an Amnesty report mentioned on the BBC WS.  The French still have a military presence in both countries.

On 11 Jun,  Kouchner was in Sudan,  and of course on 25 Jun President Sarkozy chaired a conference in Paris about Darfur - Condi Rice, China & the Arab League were there,  but not the AU. It looks like there will be a "hybrid force",  but not until next year.  We shall see.

I have also one question on the general issue:  if bringing people who carry out genocide to justice is thought such a good idea in France,  why was there a near total opposition to the US-led intervention to remove Saddam Hussein?  Not just criticism of the many errors of the US administration after the war,  but a conviction that the intervention was inevitably,  necessarily, bound to fail.

This could be due partly to the French tradition of anti-Americanism,  in a wider sense an antipathy toward the "anglo-saxons",  which has largely transferred from being against Britain to being against the US nowadays.  It is worth, though,  noting one thing:  while George Bush is held in almost universal contempt,  Tony Blair is probably hated less in France than he is in Britain.

Denis MacShane suggested last year that there was a deal whereby France was won over to the German position (against the Iraq war) by Germany offering to support completely the French position opposing reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy in late 2002 (**).  MacShane,  of course,  was Europe Minister in the British government,  so he is not an entirely unbiased observer.

Nonetheless,  if Chirac could carry out such manoeuvrings without there being any substantial debate,  it suggests there is an almost complete consensus among opinion-formers in France,  such that Blair (or Brown) would envy.

One final thing:  the UMP man points out,  and I have heard this before from the French Right,  that Britain is the only country in Europe,  apart from France,  to have substantial spending on defence;  so any progress in European co-operation on defence will depend on Anglo-French initiatives.

Update (1 Jul):
* I missed the start and end of the programme.  Fortunately,  Radio France International's website has a good archives page for Le Franc Parler.  The guest on 04/06/2007 was Pierre Lellouche.  It is possible to listen again to the programme or to the one of 23 Apr,  say,  with Bernard Kouchner.

** Review of Gerhard Schröder's autobiography in the FT magazine,  2/3 Dec 2006.

Update (10 Jul):  Sarkozy is visiting Algeria and Tunisia.  As the BBC WS points out,  this is his first trip outside Europe since becoming president. 

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A lost subtlety

(28 Jun) - Justin Webb, a BBC correspondent in Washington, reports that the defeat for President Bush over the immigration bill could "open the floodgates", with further defeats possible on the Iraq "surge". No mention, of course, of the aspect that Bush has been defeated for being too liberal.